Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Court Allows Gender Hostile Work Environment Claims To Proceed To Jury

In Hiltabidel v. Uniontown Newspapers, Inc., No.: 2:08-cv-409 (W.D. Pa. 2009), the Court allowed plaintiff's allegations of a hostile work environment based upon her gender to proceed to a jury. The Court held that genuine issues of material fact existed with respect to whether comments made regarding plaintiff's attractiveness made by her supervisor, along with what plaintiff categorized as inappropriate requests and placement in inappropriate situations by her supervisor were severe and pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment under Title VII.

Plaintiff was a female sales representative for the defendant and had the responsibilities of selling advertising on the defendant's internet websites. The following facts were undisputed: (1) in March of 2007, plaintiff accompanied her supervisor to a meeting with a male potential client at the bar of a restaurant in Uniontown and that during the meeting, the customer sat next to plaintiff, his leg made contact with her leg early in the meeting and his arm was draped around plaintiff's chair for the duration of the meeting; (2) after the March, 2007 meeting, plaintiff requested not to meet with potential customers in restaurants again; (3) in April, 2007, plaintiff's supervisor asked her to have dinner with an employee of a Philadelphia newspaper that was conducting an on-site visit with the defendant; (4) on more than one occasion, plaintiff's supervisor shared comments with her that he either received or overheard the opinion that plaintiff was an attractive woman; (5) on one occasion, plaintiff's supervisor asked her to accompany him on an overnight business trip, which she declined;(6) on April 23, 2007, plaintiff approached the manager of a different department of the defendant employer and expressed her opinion that conducting a meeting with a customer in a bar was inappropriate; and (7) plaintiff resigned her position in June, 2007.

The defendant employer did not dispute these incidents, but argued that the supervisor never directed sexual conduct or behavior towards plaintiff, that the bodily contact complained of at the March, 2007 meeting was incidental, and that the remainder of plaintiff's complaints were innocuous incidents that were insufficient to give rise to a claim of a hostile work environment.

Plaintiff also complained of defendant's requirement that plaintiff be accompanied on appointments with potential clients by a sales representative from a different department. Defendant argued that this was intended to assist plaintiff and relieve her of having to "cold-call" potential clients. Plaintiff argued that this requirement was made in response to her complaints and was intended to reduce of efficacy of her position.